Why Plan Mexico will Crash and Burn

Rampant corruption on both sides of the border exacerbate the ineffectiveness of an already failed strategy

Plan Mexico, the US military and police aid package to the Mexican government, is based on a failed “war on drugs” model.  This model prioritizes criminalizing the drug trade at the expense of focusing on the harmful effects of drug abuse and addiction as a public health problem.  The result has been a blood-soaked disaster. 

The War at Home

The United States’ war on drugs kicked into high gear beginning with the Nixon administration in the 1970s. President Nixon increased the federal resources dedicated to prosecuting drug crimes and increased penalties for drug dealers.  The Reagan administration followed suit and increased penalties for drug users, especially crack users.  The first Bush administration continued the march to war by appointing Bill Bennett as drug czar. Rolling Stone’s Ben Wallace-Wells reports that Bennett once commented: “Two words sum up my entire approach: consequences and confrontation.”

Decades of drug war policy decisions were made based on rhetoric, not hard data.  A 2001 report from the National Research Council on the drug war concluded, “The existing drug-use monitoring systems are strikingly inadequate to support the full range of policy decisions that the nation must make.... It is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without any way of knowing whether and to what extent it is having the desired effect."

After decades and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on get-tough drug policies, the war on drugs’ collateral damage is painfully evident.  The Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPAN) states that approximately 1.5 million people are arrested each year in the United States for drug law violations, making the US the biggest jailer in the world—at the expense of US taxpayers.  Even the chronically ill are fair game in the war on drugs: the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the federal government can prosecute medical marijuana patients, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.  And the drug war is making US residents even sicker: because the federal government refuses to fund needle exchange programs, intravenous drug users are at high risk for hepatitis and HIV infection.  Thirty-four percent of all reported new HIV infections are amongst intravenous drug users, with 75% of reported new HIV infections amongst women and children being in some way related to intravenous drug use.  Needle exchange programs, while painfully under-funded and stymied by some states’ laws against the possession, distribution, and sale of syringes, are scientifically proven to lower infection rates.

The US government’s blanket criminalization of all narcotics use has focused the overwhelming majority of its resources on enforcing an arbitrary notion of “right and wrong” at the expense of the nation’s health.  A better policy would focus on the harmful consequences of drug abuse, redirecting drug war resources to drug treatment programs so that people who desperately want to quit can do so. 

While the majority of US citizens support drug treatment over incarceration, incarceration still remains the priority in many states.  This reporter watched as a mother arrested for a drug violation begged a Philadelphia judge to sentence her to a drug treatment program instead of jailing her.  She explained that she’d already been in jail and it didn’t get her off drugs, and that she couldn’t get into a drug treatment program she could afford.  The judge sentenced her to prison.

In the US, this mother’s story is not unique.  There are numerous reports of drug addicts dying from overdoses while on waiting lists for beds in rehab centers.  Despite Virginia’s state Congress-led study that found that many rehab programs cost less than incarceration, states all over the country continue to cut funds.  The federal government is also cutting funds for drug rehab: while the US government hopes to spend between $400-$470 million on Plan Mexico in 2009, President Bush proposed a $73 million cut in domestic drug treatment programs in the 2009 budget he sent to Congress.

The War Abroad

Bush’s criminal under-funding of drug treatment programs in the US flies in the face of the logic of supply and demand: while the US continues to be the world’s biggest market for illicit drugs, drug traffickers will find a way to produce and transport those drugs into the United States, even if they have to kidnap, torture, or kill every rival, cop, and journalist in Mexico to do it. They have an impressive incentive: drug trafficking is an estimated $50 billion a year industry in Mexico alone.

Plan Mexico, officially known as the Merida Initiative, has a number of striking similarities to Plan Colombia.  So far, the US has sunk nearly $5 billion in US personnel, armament, aid, pesticides, and training to Colombia’s military and police in order to continue the drug war in that country.  The results: Plan Colombia has exacerbated violence in the region, has been implicated in massacres of indigenous communities in resistance, and has failed to meet its own benchmarks. 

When Presidents Clinton and Pastrana proposed Plan Colombia, their stated goal was to cut Colombia’s drug production in half.  However, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported this month that coca cultivation has actually risen 15% since 2000, when Plan Colombia first went into effect.  Cocaine production rose 4% over the same period. 

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) explains how drug cartels have managed to increase production despite the unprecedented military offensive: “Coca growers, primarily in Colombia, have sustained and seemingly increased overall cultivation in South America by expanding growing operations to areas where large-scale coca cultivation had not been reported previously.”  This increase happened despite the fact that “[t]he U.S. State Department reports that 2006 was the sixth consecutive year of record aerial spraying in Colombia, surpassing the previous year's record by 24 percent.” 

This increase occurred because, with US demand for Colombian drugs unaffected, drug cartels have adapted and evolved. Producers have abandoned cultivating large open coca fields in favor of many tiny ones hidden under trees or in tall weeds in order to avoid aerial detection and spraying.  When US and Colombian forces took out the notorious Medellin and Cali cartels, drug trafficking was virtually unaffected.  Scores of smaller “boutique” cartels stepped up to take their place almost immediately.  These “cartelitos” have managed to keep a lower profile than their drug kingpin predecessors.  Furthermore, whereas the Colombian cartels previously dominated drug trafficking (including through the Central American-Mexico corridor to the United States), the US DoJ reports that Colombian drug trafficking organizations increasingly rely on Mexican cartels to smuggle heroin to the United States.  As for cocaine trafficking, in 2002 approximately 72% of the cocaine that entered the US traveled the Mexico-Central American corridor.  This number rose to 90% in 2006.  Mexican drug cartels now dominate the US market thanks to the evolution of the drug trade caused by Plan Colombia.

While Plan Colombia may have failed to stop or even slow down drug trafficking, it has succeeded in opening up Colombia to international financial institutions and transnational corporations.  When it announced the $7.5 billion Plan, the impoverished Colombian government pledged $4 billion of its own money towards the project.  Colombia then took out a $2.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December 1999.  In exchange for the loan, it agreed to IMF-imposed structural adjustment and economic austerity measures.  Global Exchange reports that in order to comply with the IMF’s demands, Colombia “cut health care, education and other social services for millions of Colombians, laying off tens of thousands of workers in the process.” Colombia’s neoliberal nightmare isn’t over: George W. Bush has proposed a hotly contested free trade agreement for Colombia.

Internal displacement skyrocketed under Plan Colombia.  In 2001, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that the decades-long civil war in Colombia had resulted in 525,000 internally displaced people. By 2005, the year Plan Colombia officially expired (although to this day Colombia remains the biggest American recipient of US foreign military financing), the UNHCR estimated two million internally displaced people.  The Catholic Church carried out its own independent investigation that same year and counted 2.9 million displaced people.

The Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program reports that arbitrary arrests also skyrocketed under Plan Colombia.  During the 6-year period between 1996 and 2002, there were 2,869 documented arbitrary arrests by Colombia government security forces.  During the 2-year period between 2002 and 2004, when Plan Colombia was in full effect, there were 6,332 documented arbitrary arrests.

The Center for International Policy’s Americas Program reports that other human rights indicators also suffered: “Killings of unionists increased from 91 in 2003 to 94 in 2004.”  The Americas Program also reports a “rise in reports of torture and disappearances, as well as arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial executions carried out by the security forces. The Colombian Commission of Jurists reports that the state security forces killed 184 civilians in 2003, up from an annual average of 120 between 1998 and 2002.”

While Colombia’s President Uribe and the US government argue that the body count in Colombia’s decades-long civil war is finally decreasing, Colombian researcher Hector Moncayo argues, “When they’ve already massacred an entire population, the fact that now they’re killing less isn’t an improvement.  That’s like saying that [Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet, after four years of being in power, turned democratic because he was no longer killing and disappearing people.  Well of course—he’d already achieved what he’d set out to do by that time.”

Five Reasons Plan Mexico Will Crash and Burn

Despite the drug war model’s documented history of death, destruction, and miserable failure, some believe that it can work in Mexico, or at the very least be a Trojan horse for improving human rights and the rule of law.  So, for those who believe that Mexico can be the exception to the rule, Narco News presents Five Reasons Plan Mexico Will Crash and Burn.

The Plan Mexico spending plan that Narco News obtained in September of this year does not detail the quantity of funds and resources each Mexican agency will receive.  Instead, it groups chunks of money thematically (such as “Governing Justly and Democratically” and “Peace and Security”) and mentions recipient agencies in its overview of the category.  It is therefore impossible to determine exactly how much money in resources and training each individual Mexican agency will receive, or where exactly the money will go. 

Reason #1: The Mexican Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR in its Spanish initials):

The PGR is mentioned 17 times as a recipient of US armament, equipment, and training in the spending plan.  Specifically, Plan Mexico will provide the PGR with training and technical assistance to develop electronic and undercover evidence, and systems design and programming support for the PGR’s intelligence unit—in other words, spy training.  Funds will also expand the PGR’s case-tracking system.  Plan Mexico will pay to refurbish and equip two Citation II C-550 surveillance aircraft, which have radar and cameras and can be (and often are) outfitted with weapons for the drug war.  Plan Mexico will also support and expand Project OASSIS, a bilateral program that targets human smugglers on the US-Mexico border. Through Project OASSIS, the US and Mexican governments exchange critical information, coordinate enforcement operations, and jointly target cross-border criminal activity.  The Plan Mexico spending plan also vaguely mentions other unspecified “security equipment and training” for the PGR.

Like most Mexican agencies charged with investigating and combating drug trafficking, the PGR has been wracked by scandals due to a significant number of its agents and top officials being on drug traffickers’ payrolls.  These cartel informants are paid significant sums of money in exchange for both protection and information.  While security and intelligence integration is a goal of both Plan Mexico and its inspiration, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, the US should be very careful about who in the PGR receives sensitive drug trafficking intelligence.  It seems as though no one in the PGR is immune to the lure of high-paying cartel side jobs, not even the people who run it.

The highest-ranking PGR official to be detained for working for the cartels is Mexico’s drug tsar himself, Noé Ramírez Mandujano.  Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora announced on November 20 that Ramírez Mandujano has allegedly been on the Pacific cartel (also known as the Sinaloa cartel) payroll since shortly after he began working as the head of the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime (SIEDO).  As an agency within the PGR, the SIEDO is responsible for the PGR’s drug trafficking investigations. Medina Mora accuses his colleague Ramírez Mandujano of having received at least one payment of USD$450,000 in exchange for passing confidential information to the Sinaloa cartel.  The $450,000 was intended to be a recurring monthly payment, but Medina Mora did specify whether or not the payments continued. Ramírez Mandujano is being held under administrative detention pending formal criminal charges.

While Medina Mora did not specify what information Ramírez Mandujano allegedly passed to the Sinaloa cartel, it remains painfully clear that Ramírez Mandujano has consistently dragged his feet in investigating corruption within the SIEDO, which has been leaking like a sieve under his watch.  The Mexican weekly Proceso reports that Ramírez Mandujano received concrete information about moles within his agency as early as March 2008 when the DEA told him, “Your office has turned into an extension of the Beltran brothers’ cell.”  [The Beltran Leyva brothers operate a Sinaloa cartel cell.]  The DEA went on to give Ramírez Mandujano a list of SIEDO agents who worked as Sinaloa cartel informants.  The list included Fernando Rivera Hernandez, then-deputy director of SEIDO’s Technical Coordination, and SIEDO commanders Roberto Garcia Garcia and Milton Celia Perez.

Ramírez Mandujano’s response to the DEA’s revelation was to investigate the three men—for 15 days.  He gave up the investigation after the three men under investigation got angry.

It’s not clear that Ramírez Mandujano’s investigation would have produced results even if it had continued.  Four of the seven agents Ramírez Mandujano assigned to investigate and follow Rivera, Garcia, and Celia were also on the Sinaloa cartel payroll.  The Sinaloa informants who were in charge of investigating their colleagues were SIEDO agent Miguel Colorado Gonzalez and Federal Investigation Agency (AFI, the PGR’s police force) agents Antonio Mejia Robles, Jorge Alberto Zavala, and Francisco Javier Jimenez. Colorado, Mejia, and Zavala are all currently imprisoned for their ties to drug traffickers.  Jimenez is at large.  Rivera, Garcia, and Celia have all entered into the witness protection program.  They are testifying against their former boss, Noé Ramírez Mandujano.

According to Medina Mora, Ramírez Mandujano was fully aware that both Rivera and Colorado were working for the Sinaloa cartel when Ramírez Mandujano assigned Colorado to investigate Rivera’s alleged links to drug trafficking.  Rivera and Colorado both participated in a meeting between Ramírez Mandujano and a Sinaloa cartel member.

It will be interesting to see how many of the PGR officials currently arrested or held under administrative detention will actually serve time in prison.  In his article “Links between Mexican Security Secretary Garcia Luna and Drug Kingpin ‘El Mayo,’Proceso’s veteran drug reporter Ricardo Ravelo recounts:

In 1993, when Rodrigo Esparza was a PGR delegate in Sinaloa, the first rumblings surfaced over his alleged relationship with Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, then a bitter rival of the Arellano Félix brothers, the bosses of the Tijuana cartel.

According to the official memo DGPDSC/UEA/1938/2005, dated August 12, 2005, and obtained through a request to the Federal Institute for Access to Information (record number 0001700181305), Esparza was accused of impeding the administration of justice. Said accusation was registered in the criminal proceeding 159/93, which came out of the criminal investigation 3423/93. On June 28, 1993, the charges were accepted by the Third Criminal Court in the Ramo District in Mexico City, and later he was imprisoned awaiting trial.

His detention was revoked on August 23, 1993, via judicial tricks. In less than three months, Esparza saw the investigation into his alleged wrongdoings buried with a stay of proceedings in his case. This precedent notwithstanding, Rodrigo Esparza is now [Secretary of Public Security Genaro] Garcia Luna's right hand man in the PFP [the Federal Preventive Police].

Heated debate over human rights in an increasingly militarized Mexico was at the center of the process of approving the first year of funding for Plan Mexico.  Rather than opposing financial and logistical support for a military strategy that has by all measures been a human rights disaster as well as a miserable failure in slowing down the drug trade, US lawmakers and large human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) pushed for the inclusion of so-called human rights conditions in the final bill.  The efficacy of these conditions is in question: the human rights requirements only condition 15% of the anti-narcotics and military funds (USD$43 million out of 2008’s USD$400 million by the US government’s calculations). Furthermore, the US Secretary of State is responsible for certifying compliance with the conditions.  While this $43 million is currently held up because Mexico has failed to meet the human rights conditions, it remains to be seen for how long the US State Department will be willing to implicitly admit that one of its principal allies in the western hemisphere is a criminal human rights abuser.

One of the Plan Mexico human rights conditions requires that the Mexican government “is continuing to enforce the prohibition, in accordance with Mexican and international law, on the use of testimony obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.”  The Mexican government does not appear ready to comply with this condition any time soon.

The PGR has been caught up in a series of unresolved torture scandals and has failed to purge known or suspected torturers from its ranks.  One criminal investigation, PGR/SIEDO/UEIDCS/106/2005, involves an incident in which AFI agents allegedly detained five alleged members of Los Zetas (the former Mexican military’s Special Forces soldiers who defected to work as the cartels’ private army), and instead imprisoning them, handed them over to people working for the Beltran Leyva criminal organization.  The alleged Zetas were tortured, and one was murdered.  The Beltran Leyva cartel later published the video of the torture and execution online.  One of the PGR officials named as an accomplice in the criminal investigation is Francisco Lara Saldaña, who at the time was a PGR subdelegate in charge of Penal Processes in the city of Acapulco.  Despite the fact that the criminal investigation remains open, Lara Saldaña was promoted in December 2007 to be the PGR’s delegate in the state of San Luis Potosi.

Even after the US Congress passed Plan Mexico, the PGR showed no signs of ending its use of evidence obtained under torture in criminal investigations.  The three alleged Zetas that the PGR arrested shortly after the terrorist grenade attack on Independence Day celebrations in Morelia, Michoacan, on September 15, 2008, were tortured before they officially entered into the PGR’s custody.  There is physical evidence of the torture, including x-rays of their broken bones.  The suspects claim they were brutally tortured by unknown assailants over a period of days until they learned a script confessing to the grenade attacks.  The PGR then received an anonymous tip stating the location of the suspects.  Inexplicably, the PGR waited 26 hours before sending only three SIEDO agents to the house described in the anonymous call—odd behavior considering the men are suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack and belonging to an organization that is armed to the teeth with military-issue weapons.  An official memo leaked from a Mexican intelligence agency to Proceso’s Jorge Carrasco Araizaga and Francisco Castellanos states that unnamed Michoacan security forces met with representatives of the La Familia cartel just prior to the arrests.  La Familia runs Michoacan, is in the middle of a turf war with Los Zetas, and had promised to carry out an independent investigation of the Morelia grenade attack. 

The PGR is also responsible for the Brad Will murder investigation. Multiple US Congressional aides have said the PGR “mishandled” the investigation.  The PGR recently issued arrest warrants for the witnesses to Will’s murder who claim that Oaxacan police and public officials shot the Indymedia reporter from a distance during the 2006 uprising in that state.  The PGR ignored video, photographic, and ballistic evidence that clearly points to the officials, and is basing its case almost entirely on the testimony of the local mayor’s cousin, who claims an unknown “voice” told him APPO supporter Juan Martinez murdered Will.

Reason #2: The Federal Public Security Ministry (SSP)

The SSP and its police force, the Federal Preventive Police (PFP, which is charged with preventing crimes and acts as a notoriously brutal federal riot police squad during protests), will receive training, security equipment, non-intrusive inspection equipment, contraband-detecting canines, “education in police techniques, professional conduct, and ethics,” and polygraph equipment and training.

Of all of the Mexican security agencies currently embroiled in corruption scandals, the SSP’s troubles appear to be the most pervasive: the Public Security Secretary himself has been accused of having links to drug traffickers, primarily Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.  Despite the claims of federal police who have worked under Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna’s watch, multiple former cartel members who turned state’s witnesses, and current cartel members, all of whom say Garcia Luna is working for the Sinaloa cartel, the Secretary remains in power.  He’s even survived PGR criminal investigations against him, which, rather than absolving him of any wrongdoing, simply went nowhere and remain open. 

Garcia Luna’s impressive ability to advance within the federal government despite all the accusations against him is made all the more suspicious due to Narco News correspondent Bill Conroy’s argument that the Sinaloa cartel seems to be receiving preferential treatment under the Calderon administration. Conroy’s suspicions are somewhat corroborated by veteran drug reporter Ricardo Ravelo’s assertion that if one analyzes arrests statistics and body counts, one cartel (always a different one) emerges as each Mexican president’s untouchable cartel. 

The most damning accusation against Garcia Luna comes from a group federal police officers who recently wrote a letter to the Mexican Congress detailing their case against Garcia Luna.  They claim an unnamed high-ranking cartel member and his convoy of gunmen stopped Garcia Luna and his 27-agent motorcade, which was also armed, on the Cuernavaca-Tepoztlan highway this past October 19.  According to the federal police officers’ letter, the gangsters disarmed Garcia Luna’s bodyguards without any resistance, thanks to Garcia Luna’s order to that effect.  Ravelo, who reported the incident in Proceso, writes, “The agents who are familiar with the incident, and whose names are omitted for fear of reprisals, state in the document that the ‘gangster’s’ voice said to Garcia Luna: ‘This is the first and last warning so that you know that, yes, we can get to you if you don't follow through on the pact.’”  Garcia Luna then left his disarmed and blindfolded bodyguards to go to an undisclosed location to meet with the high-ranking cartel member for four hours.

Garcia Luna’s credibility is further called into question by his closest colleagues’ criminal ties. In addition to Rodrigo Esparza Cisterna, the acting commissioner of the PFP who managed to only spend three months in jail for his alleged ties to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman of the Sinaloa cartel, another Garcia Luna colleague who is currently imprisoned is Édgar Enrique Bayardo del Villar, an inspector for the PFP’s Anti-Drug Division.  Two witnesses claim that the Zambadas paid Bayardo “millions” to protect their drug business.  During Bayardo’s tenture in the PFP, Garcia Luna apparently failed to notice that Bayardo had purchased (in cash) a Mercedes, a BMW, and armored Jeep, paintings, sculptures, and two houses, all valued at around MX$21 million (about two million dollars at the time).  Bayardo earned about US$2,600 per month at the PFP. 

Even more alarming, in November the SIEDO detained the PFP’s former head of Regional Security, Javier Herrera Valles.  Herrera, a 30-year PFP veteran, is accused of “receiving payments from groups linked to organized crime.”  The government is keeping an uncharacteristic tight lid on information related to the case, and has not disclosed the quantity of money nor the criminal organization involved.  In February, Herrera sent a letter to President Calderon that detailed problems within the SSP, amongst them bad management, poor planning of anti-organized crime operations, and a lack of intelligence gathering.  As a result of his complaints, the government suspended his salary and later fired him.

SSP corruption isn’t limited to Garcia Luna and his close circle.  On October 20, just one day after Garcia Luna’s alleged meeting with a cartel member, a shootout occurred in Mexico City’s Lindavista neighborhood, where the Zambada family had rented a house.  When AFI and Mexico City police officers attempted to arrest suspects associated with the Sinaloa cartel—including “El Mayo” Zambada’s brother, Jesus “El Rey” Zambada—they came under fire from PFP, AFI, and state police officers who were attempting to protect the Zambada family.  The four corrupt officers were apprehended.  They were identified as: Marco Antonio Valadez Rico, a mid-level commanding PFP officer assigned to the Airports and Borders Division (“El Rey” is accused of controlling the Mexico City airport, which is notorious for the drugs and drug money that passes through there); Carlos Gerardo Castillo Ramirez, assigned to the AFI’s Regional Deployment department (he joined the AFI when Garcia Luna was in charge of that police force); Jose Guillermo Baez Figueroa, who worked in the PFP’s Regional Deployment Division and was also assigned to the Mexico City airport; and Francisco Alvaro Montaño Ochoa, ministerial agent from the state of Mexico.

Remarkably, the PFP’s involvement with the Zambada family doesn’t end there.  According to Reforma, on October 22, two days after the shoot-out, about fifty PFP agents arrived at the Zambada’s Lindavista house, even though the investigation was not within their jurisdiction.  SIEDO agents were already inside carrying out their investigation.  Four of the PFP agents exited an unmarked car without license plates and attempted to forcibly enter the Zambada property.  When SIEDO agents stopped them, the man in charge of the PFP agents, donning a bullet-proof vest, told the SIEDO, “I come under higher orders.”  The SIEDO agents demanded the name of the person who sent them, but rather than answering the question, all fifty PFP agents left the scene.  Garcia Luna never explained why his police officers attempted to enter the Zambada house after PFP agents had already been arrested for violently defending that property.

The alarming number of arrests from within the SSP and the PFP shouldn’t be surprising. Mexican Congress recently sent President Calderon a list of questions requesting information it felt was lacking in his State of the Union report.  One of the questions regarded the trustworthiness of the nation’s police forces.  Calderon responded that only 41.7% of the 56,065 federal, state, and municipal police recently evaluated were found to be “recommendable,” whereas 49.4% were found to be “not recommendable.” The PFP scored on par with the rest of the nation’s police: only 41.7% of PFP agents passed the examination, which included medical, psychometric, medical, and toxicological exams; a financial audit; and a polygraph test.

Reason #3: State and Municipal Police in Mexico

Plan Mexico provides an unspecified amount of funds for protective equipment (mentioned in previous drafts of the Plan as bullet-proof vests and riot gear) and training for Mexican police.  Plan Mexico will also expand Mexico’s database of biometric data (such as DNA and fingerprints) so that state and municipal police will be able to access it.  Plan Mexico also funds human rights training for local police.  While Plan Mexico places heavy emphasis on the federal police and military, it is important to remember that local police have historically been on the frontlines of the war on drugs—and they’ve fought on both sides of the battle line that divides the cartels and those who oppose them.

The Plan Mexico-funded human rights training is likely to have little impact on police behavior as long as those same police continue to receive torture training from US police and private contractors.  The Leon, Guanajuato, Special Tactics Group was recently discovered to have received training from the San Diego SWAT team, a Mexican company called Sniper, and a US/British company called Risks Incorporated.  Leaked videos of a Spring 2008 training show the trainers demonstrating torture tactics on trainees.  One of the Risks Incorporated employees, Jerry Arrechea, also has training programs for police and the military in the Mexico City metro area and Chiapas, so it is unlikely that the scope of police torture training is limited to just Leon.  The Leon government said these “extreme trainings” were to prepare the police for the fight against organized crime—in other words, these are exactly the sort of trainings Plan Mexico would pay for.

It is universally agreed that local police forces, especially those in areas with particular importance to drug traffickers, have been corrupted to an alarming degree by the cartels.  This was one of the justifications for the deployment of the military against drug trafficking.  Indeed, once the military hit the streets, it began to take control of police stations throughout drug trafficking hotspots because the federal government suspected that these police stations were involved in drug trafficking.  The military has taken control of police stations and arrested significant numbers of police in cities and municipalities in Tamaulipas, Tabasco (where they arrested the state police chief and a county police chief), Baja California, and Chihuahua.  In Tijuana, soldiers recently fired 500 police officers, or over a quarter of the city’s police force.

Local police have been linked to some horrendous drug-related massacres.  Federal police recently arrested Pedro Jaime Chávez Rosales, the police chief of Huixquilucan, Mexico State; and Antonio Careaga Ramírez, the ex-police chief of San Mateo Atenco, Mexico State, for their alleged involvement in the deaths of 25 people whose bodies were found dumped in La Marquesa National Park.

These are extreme incidents, but they aren’t isolated.  In ongoing government evaluations of federal, state, and local police, a majority of the nation’s police failed to be deemed “recommendable.” Local police fared the worst: 61.6% of the 26,165 state and municipal police who were evaluated are “not recommendable” and 30.1% are “recommendable.”  Calderon noted that in areas that suffer from higher levels of violence and insecurity due to drug trafficking, police were even more likely to fail.  In Baja California, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon—all drug trafficking hotspots—between 60% and 88% of the police there are considered “not recommendable.”

Reason #4: Mexico’s National Defense Department (Sedena in its Spanish initials)

In 2008, Sedena will receive will receive almost all of the $116.5 million in military armament and related training under Plan Mexico. The US Defense Department’s Security Cooperation Agency says this money, which is categorized as Foreign Military Financing (FMF), is for “financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training.”  The Plan Mexico spending plan specifies that Sedena will receive up to two CASA 235 aircraft for maritime surveillance, up to five BH-412 EP (Bell Helicopter) medium-lift utility helicopters along with a logistics support package for two years for new aircraft and possibly four Mexico-owned helicopters already in service, and an undetermined number of ion scanners, which analyze molecules to quickly test for drugs.  Ion scanners are highly unreliable and widely abused by prison officials in the US as a means of harassing prison visitors.  All of the equipment will come with US training, although it is unclear if the US government or private contractors will provide the training.

Approximately $90 million in FMF funds (perhaps up to $99 million) have already been released.  The remaining balance (15%) is on hold pending the US Secretary of State’s certification that Mexico has complied with certain human rights conditions laid out in Plan Mexico.  

One of Calderon’s primary reasons for deploying the military to combat drug trafficking was because the cartels had corrupted or in other ways incapacitated the local police.  In some cases, the army relieved entire police forces of their duties because all of the officers and their commanders were corrupt or had quit because they feared for their lives. 

However, this confidence in the military may just be window dressing.  Maureen Meyer from the Washington Officer on Latin America (WOLA) writes that military initiatives have succeed “in generating a temporary sense of improved citizen security,” but that “ultimately, these efforts have faltered in the face of basic laws of drug supply and demand.”  These efforts have also failed to actually improve citizen security.  Bill Conroy recently wrote, “Since Calderon sent the military into Juarez in late March 2008, the murder toll in the city has jumped dramatically. The data obtained by Narco News shows the death toll on a steady climb from 18 in January — and after a slight lull in April — to 119 in June. The murder figure for November, according to Mexican news reports, hit 192.”

Human rights have also fared poorly under Calderon’s policy of intense militarization: Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received eight complaints of human rights abuses committed by members of the military in 2006.  Calderon deployed the first troops in the war on organized crime in December 2006.  In 2007, the number of complaints the CNDH received regarding human rights abuses by soldiers increased to 384.  The CNDH reports that the military is on track to surpass this number in 2008: its mid-year report on human rights abuses committed by the military had counted 242 complains between January and July 2008. 

Moreover, just like the other agencies responsible for combating drug trafficking, Sedena has been infiltrated by the cartels.  Prior to Calderon’s declaration of war on organized crime, this corruption may have been limited due to Sedena’s limited role in combating drug trafficking.  But the corruption has always been there, and some fear that now that the military is a lead player in the drug war, this corruption will only increase. 

Military corruption may be the most dire in the war on drugs. In addition to the same sensitive confidential other Mexican agencies have regarding anti-drug operations, the military receives the most deadly and sophisticated weapons and training—a lot of it from the US.  US training and weapons have been known to fall into the hands of the cartels, and Plan Mexico plans to increase the flow of information and weapons technology. 

The most cited example of US training gone wrong in the war on drugs in Mexico is Los Zetas. Los Zetas came from a Mexican military Special Operations unit—the best of the best. The Mexican government has confirmed that they received their top-notch training in the US.  Some accounts say it was in Fort Bragg, and others say it was in Fort Benning’s infamous School of the Americas.  Shortly after receiving quality training at US taxpayers’ expense—training that most likely included torture, due to the contents of leaked military training manuals used at these bases—Los Zetas defected en masse to take higher-paying jobs working as a private military for drug cartels.

Narco News’ Conroy notes that it isn’t just US military training that’s benefiting the drug cartels—it’s also US military weapons.  Former DEA agent Celerino “Cele” Castillo III analyzed photos from government press conferences that show off the weapons it has seized from cartels.  Castillo tells Conroy that the 40mm rounds that appear in a recent press conference photo are US military issue.  But how did those weapons wind up in the cartels’ hands?

Castillo elaborates in a recent Fort Worth Weekly article by Peter Gorman:

“The majority of the weapons being used by the cartels these days are U.S. military weapons and explosives,” he said. “They’ve got M-16s, hand grenades, grenade launchers. Even in Texas you can’t buy those. Those are U.S. military weapons. Last year an 18-wheeler full of M-16s was stopped headed to Matamoros, a border town controlled by the Gulf Cartel. Our U.S. military is either supplying the Mexican military with that weaponry, and corrupt elements in the Mexican military are selling it to the cartels, or someone in the U.S. military is supplying them. Either way, those are U.S. military guns being used in very violent cartel rivalries.”

In addition to weapons and training, information on planned military operations also flows to the drug cartels, both from other Mexican government agencies’ agents who are assigned to liason with the military, and from military officials themselves.

Fernando Rivera, for example, was the SIEDO agent recently arrested along with his boss, drug tsar Noé Ramírez Mandujano.  El Correo de Guanajuato reports that Rivera was in charge of coordinating joint SIEDO-Sedena operations against criminal organizations.  Rivera is now in custody, accused of participating in the same organized crime he was in charge of combating.  He allegedly leaked information to the cartels. 

A January raid on one of Alfredo "El Mochomo" Beltrán Leyva’s houses in Culiacán, Sinaloa, produced a detailed list of twenty former and current military officials who are on the Sinaloa cartel payroll. Mexico’s Reforma reported that a notebook recovered from the house recorded the informants’ names, ranks, and the amount of money each was paid.  The military men were allegedly responsible for passing on information about SIEDO investigations and upcoming military raids.  Some were also accused of protecting drug cultivation.  As a result of the notebook’s meticulously detailed information, four of the five agents assigned to Culiacán’s Ninth Military Zone were detained. The notebook also recorded a payment of $150,000 to Major of Military Justice Francisco de Jesús Pérez Chávez.  Prior to his arrest, Major Pérez worked as a district attorney in the office of the Attorney General for Military Justice (PGJM).  Much to the chagrin of everyone who isn’t a soldier, Mexico has a special justice system responsible for investigating, prosecuting, and punishing soldiers and military officials. In addition to virtually guaranteeing impunity in human rights abuse cases, the PGJM is notorious for selectively prosecuting high-ranking military officials accused of working for cartels.  Veteran drug reporter Ricardo Ravelo documents this trend in his book Los Capos: Las narco-rutas de Mexico.

But Sedena’s involvement with drug trafficking doesn’t end at simply supplying information to the cartels.  Conroy’s extensive contacts within US law enforcement agencies anonymously tell him what they know about Sedena’s role in moving drugs:

“The Mexican military and government are corrupt,” one law enforcer says. “The Military escorts smugglers to the border. It’s a daily occurrence. The video cameras at the El Paso Intelligence Center have it all on video, filed away. If we report the suspicious activity to our superiors, nothing ever happens. It’s just covered up.

“The Mexican military cartel has taken over Juarez. Our government knows it; they’re not stupid, but they’ve made some backroom deal with the Mexican government.”

Conroy also quotes government informant Guillermo Ramirez Peyro, a former high-ranking member of the Juarez cartel, as he describes military and PGR involvement in drug trafficking:

“[W]hen I did go to Colombia to make arrangement with the Colombians, the plans was to come by sea, and the Mexico's navy, the ships, they're the ones that would get the drugs in the, in the sea—marina—ocean borders, you know, of the national territories. … and the PGR then would fly this drugs to the - to Juarez, the city of Juarez.

Amazingly, US Drug Enforcement Agency officials are aware of the extent of the corruption within the US military—yet the US government still wants to give Sedena armament and training through Plan Mexico.

A DEA PowerPoint presentation that was leaked to Narco News demonstrates the extent of the anti-drug agency’s knowledge of Sedena corruption.  Conroy quotes the PowerPoint extensively:

Between Jan 2000-Dec 2006: More than 163,000 military members were criminally processed during former president Vicente Fox’s 6 years term of office. The majority of the crimes were: [the list includes abuse of power, homicide, embezzlement, kidnapping, bank robbery, illegal possession of firearms and health crimes—essentially organized crime].

Another slide in the PowerPoint provides this analysis:

• DTOs will further reach out to the Mexican military and foreign paramilitary and possible insurgent organizations in order to acquire much needed human and material support to fend off advances by competing Cartels.

• The result will be the emergence of a new type of drug trafficking organization in Mexico and the US precipitating a general militarization of the DTOs.

Reason #5: The United States Government

Plan Mexico focuses on Mexico—and to a lesser extent Central America and the Caribbean—as if drug trafficking were completely isolated from US policies and procedures.  The idea that Mexico needs US armament, training, advice, direction, and judicial reform to solve its drug violence problem is patronizing and ignorant.  US policy fuels the drug trade through the Central American corridor, and US corruption maintains the flow of drugs across its own border.

The US, Mexico, and Colombia’s preferred method of combating drug cartels—dismantling cartels by taking out their leaders—is a proven failure.  Colombia’s Medellin and Cali cartels are long gone, but drug cultivation and production are both on the rise nonetheless, and the decades-long civil war fueled by drug money still rages. 

Likewise, for years the US and Mexico have collaborated in their efforts to take out the Tijuana cartel, which was controlled by the Arellano Felix family.  They’ve focused most of their efforts on this single target in Mexico.  The results?  The Tijuana cartel may well be in its death throes—the government has arrested or killed just about all of the brothers who ran it, leaving the cartel in the hands of their sister, Enedina Arellano Felix.  In the process of wearing down the Tijuana cartel, the governments have provided a competitive advantage to neighboring cartels who have their eyes on Tijuana.  The Tijuana cartel’s weakness has sparked a turf war that in recent months has led to more battle-related deaths in Tijuana than in Baghdad.  And the drugs continue to flow unabated across the border.

The United States’ refusal to recognize its significant contribution to both the drug trade and drug-related violence will only add to the body count.  Plan Mexico’s lopsided approached to combating drug trafficking focuses on fueling the war in Mexico rather than reducing drug demand in the United States, the world’s largest drug market.  In addition to being short-sighted, the strategy is also a waste of money: even though studies have found that drug treatment is much more cost-effective than enforcement, Plan Mexico includes a nominal amount of money for drug treatment in Mexico (which is not a significant drug market), and Bush’s 2009 budget proposal cuts funding for drug treatment in the US.

But drug money isn’t the US’ only contribution to the violent drug war in Mexico: the US is also the source of approximately 90% of drug cartels’ guns (Mexico doesn’t manufacture guns).  In addition to US military-issue weapons, which are supplied to the cartels by corrupt elements in either the US or Mexican military, cartels also arm themselves with weapons that were legally purchased in the United States before being illegally turned over to the cartels.  The Brookings Institution estimates that about 2,000 guns travel south across the US-Mexico border every day.

According to Peter Gorman, “The worst-offending states are Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, all of which permit almost anyone to purchase and own as many pistols, machine pistols, rifles, and assault rifles as they want, with no waiting time and no record of the sale going beyond the gun dealers’ files.”  Gun buyers in those states are required to fill out a form before purchasing a firearm, but “[FBI spokesman Stephen] Fischer noted that the form does not include the number of weapons being purchased, ‘So in theory a person could buy 100 or more at a time if they want.’”  Gorman also quotes an unidentified Texas gun owner who tells him, “You go to any gun show, and it doesn’t take long to find someone who’ll offer to take your semi-automatic and turn it into a fully automatic weapon.”

The US government doesn’t escape the drug cartel infiltration that plagues the Mexico.  The US Department of Justice (DoJ) meticulously documents the ties that almost all major prison gangs (who also have presence outside prisons as street gangs) have to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Bill Conroy summarizes the DoJ’s recent National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) report, which documents gang infiltration in the US military:

  • Members of nearly every major street gang, including the Bloods, Crips, Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Hells Angels, Latin Kings, The 18th Street Gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Mexican Mafia, Nortenos, Surenos, Vice Lords, and various white supremacist groups, have been documented on military installations both domestically and internationally.
  • Gang members may enlist in the military to escape their current environment or gang lifestyle. Some gang members may also enlist to receive weapons, combat, and convoy support training; to obtain access to weapons and explosives; or as an alternative to incarceration. Upon discharge, they may employ their military training against law enforcement officials and rival gang members. Such military training could ultimately result in more organized, sophisticated, and deadly gangs, as well as an increase in deadly assaults on law enforcement officers.
  • Gang members in the military are commonly assigned to military support units where they have access to weapons and explosives. Military personnel may steal items by improperly documenting supply orders or by falsifying paperwork. Law enforcement officials throughout the United States have recovered military-issued weapons and explosives—such as machine guns and grenades—from criminals and gang members while conducting search warrants and routine traffic stops
  • According to open source reporting and multiple law enforcement reporting, soldiers—including gang members—are currently being taught urban warfare for combat in Iraq, including how to encounter hostile gunfire.

Conroy also provides some case examples from the NGIC report:

  • In June 2006 an incarcerated US Army soldier and active gang member identified 60 to 70 gang-affiliated military personnel in his unit allegedly involved in the theft and sale of military equipment and weapons. The solider reported that many of the military personnel in charge of ammunition and grenade distribution are sergeants who are active gang members. The soldier also reported that military commanders were aware of the actions of these gang-affiliated personnel
  • In August 2005 a US soldier in San Antonio was suspected of supplying arms—including hand grenades and bullet-proof vests—to the Texas Mexican Mafia (Mexikanemi), according to uncorroborated but reliable FBI source information
  • Since 2004, the FBI and El Paso Police Department have identified over 40 military-affiliated Folk Nation gang members stationed at the Fort Bliss Army Installation in Texas who have been involved in drug distribution, robberies, assaults, weapons offenses, and a homicide, both on and off the installation.

Even the US Embassy and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have been infiltrated.  Alberto Perez Guerrero, an Interpol employee who was found to be on the Sinaloa cartel payroll, has admitted that he used his position within the Mexico City US Embassy to leak DEA information to the Beltran Leyva brothers, who operate a Sinaloa cartel cell.  Even more alarmingly, Perez Guerrero implicated his boss, Interpol Mexico chief Rodolfo de la Guardia, and de la Guardia’s predecessor, Ricardo Gutierrez.  De la Guardia and Gutierrez are both in jail; Perez Guerrero is now a protected witness.

Drug cartels are also purchasing US police. Starr County, Texas, for example, can’t seem to find a clean sheriff.  Gorman reports in the Fort Worth Weekly that this past October, FBI agents arrested Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra for “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana” among several other offenses.  Gorman writes that “Guerra, who faces life imprisonment, follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sheriff Eugenio Falcon, who pleaded guilty to non-drug-related conspiracy charges in 1998. Among many other law enforcement officers caught dealing with the cartels, in 2005 former Cameron County Sheriff Conrado Cantu was sentenced to 24 years in prison for running a criminal enterprise out of his office.”

No End in Sight

History has demonstrated that Operation Clean-up is neither the first nor the last time the Mexican government will find cartel employees amongst its ranks.  A similarly significant multi-agency purge occurred in 2001, when the government arrested ten agents from SEDENA, the SSP, the PGR, and state police forces for reviewing, collecting, organizing, and passing information from the three agencies to both the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.

Every time the government has found networks of informants in its agencies and has subsequently purged the corrupt agents, more step up to take their place.  While ten government agents on the cartel payrolls were caught in 2001, Operation Clean-up has swept up at least thirty-five so far…and the arrests are still coming.  These networks of corruption stretch across government agencies and seem to have better inter-agency coordination and communication than the agencies themselves.  They are sophisticated, well-organized, involve some of the highest-ranking government officials, and—most importantly—are easily replaceable.

In some cases, such as the 2000 scandal involving the sale of PGR positions (in which current and prospective PGR officials were charged significant sums—in one case a million dollars—to keep their jobs or advance to better ones), the cartels themselves arrange for the misdeeds of one or several corrupt officials to be exposed so that the official who exposes them (who is on the cartel payroll) will be promoted to a position where the cartel needs him or her.  This complicated strategy is analogous to a carnival game in which the player, after winning several smaller stuffed animals, trades them in for one larger stuffed animal.

The problem with Operation Clean-up and its predecessors is that it has the same failings as the drug war itself: it fails to acknowledge the laws of supply and demand.  Like drug trafficking, as long as there is a buyer (in this case, the cartels, who paid USD$150,000-$450,000 monthly to each of the informants caught during Operation Clean-up) there will be a seller (government agents) with a product (confidential information and protection).


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